MANHATTAN — As the Kansas State Wildcats struggle to find themselves, finding ways to win has proved to be equally difficult.
TCU, on the other hand, appears to have stumbled on a winning formula.
K-State finally erased a 10-point halftime deficit at the 13-second mark, only to watch TCU snatch it away on a tip-in from Kevin Samuel with 1.7 seconds left Tuesday night to claim a 59-57 victory over the hard-luck Wildcats.
K-State fell to 7-7 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12 after losing for the sixth time by single digits. TCU improved to 11-3 and 2-0 with its second straight two-point victory.
"We keep battling and we keep giving ourselves chances, but we have to play smarter," K-State coach Bruce Weber said in what has become a familiar refrain. "We can't have some breakdowns on defense and we've got to take care of the ball on offense and make a little better shot selection, a little better consistency if we're going to make some progress."
After squandering a seven-point lead in the last 3 1/2 minutes of a 66-61 loss at Oklahoma last Saturday, the Wildcats looked ready to turn the tables against TCU. They battled back after trailing 35-25 at halftime and got even at last at 57 when David Sloan knocked down a 3-pointer with 13 seconds on the clock.
But TCU's R.J. Nembhard drove to the left side of the lane and put up a shot over two Wildcat defenders that bounced off the front of the rim, where the 6-foot-11 Samuel got a hand on the ball and tipped it in.
"We have a tip drill for the bigs, and it's something we work on in practice," said Samuel, who finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots. "I was just going for the offensive rebound hard and it was right there, so I just tipped it right back in."
And Weber and the Wildcats were left pondering once again what might have been.
"You look at Oklahoma, we were in control a lot of that game and executed, did a lot of good things, but they came back and found a way to win at home and made the plays," Weber said of the OU loss, where the Sooners scored the game's last 12 points. "Now this game TCU probably deserved to win, but it looked like maybe we were going to be the one to come back and find a way.
"Obviously we didn't get the box-out and they got the tip-in to win the game."
It was an uphill battle the whole way for K-State, which never led by more than a point despite six lead changes and three ties in the first half. TCU closed the half on a 12-2 run, drilling 4 of 5 3-pointers in the final 3:20 of the period, capped by Jaire Grayer's buzzer-beater that pushed the lead to double digits.
K-State used an 11-1 run in the second half to get back in the game, cutting the deficit to 41-40 on Sneed's three-point play with 11:14 left. After TCU stretched it back to 49-42 on a Nembhard free throw, the Wildcats came right back with a DaJuan Gordon dunk and Sneed 3-pointer to trim it back to two.
Cartier Diarra's steal and breakaway dunk got the Wildcats within a basket again at the 46-second mark, and when Nembhard missed the second of two free throws at 26.8 seconds, it set up Sloan's game-tying 3-pointer.
"Coach is always on me about being ready to shoot," Sloan said of his final shot. "I saw (the ball) go to Mike (McGuirl) and then he just passed it to me and I shot it with confidence."
With Diarra in foul trouble, Sloan played 20 minutes at point guard, finishing with eight points and three assists. Sneed led the Wildcats with 19 points and six rebounds, while Makol Mawien had 10 points and five boards.
It was the third straight solid offensive performance for Sneed, who also had 18 points in a 69-67 victory over Tulsa on Jan. 29 and 22 in the Oklahoma game.
"I'm just doing what I can to help my team win," Sneed said. "I'm not worrying about the stats right now."
For TCU, Desmond Bane led the way with 16 points and Nembhard had 15, while Grayer and Samuel adding 10 each.
K-State goes back on the road Saturday to face Texas in Austin, still looking for answers.
"It's frustrating, disappointing," Weber said. "I'm disappointed for the guys — they care.
"They prepare to win (and) that's why we're close. The coaches do a great job, and we can blame it on youth, new (players), whatever, but no one wants to hear that."